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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: May 2009

2 - Antiquarianism, balladry and the rehabilitation of romance

from Part I - The Ends of Enlightenment
The significance of antiquarian activities reaches right into the quiddity of Romantic writing. Antiquarian researches were certainly politically charged, though their implications remained unarticulated beneath a wealth of accumulated data. Ballad collectors were the antiquaries of poetic culture, their 'artifacts' were recovered remnants of ancient poetry, valued initially for their glimpses into the arts, usages and modes of living. Translation of the oral ballads into printed collections opened chasms of classification and interpretation. Possible in theory, distinction between collection, editing, improvement, imitation and forgery, was elusive in practice. 'Authenticity' became an issue when oral performance was consigned to print. The minstrel-bard was a conserving force and a revolutionary one, an embodied figure of poetic imagination integral to the development of Romantic ideology. Historians and antiquarians were already recuperating medieval quest romance for the evidence they provided about life in the past. The malleability of romance forms and their equivocal association opened capacious possibilities to nineteenth-century historical novels.
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The Cambridge History of English Romantic Literature
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